Occupying a former railway station in the heart of Hackney, Oslo has been on the frontier of the East London live music migration for over five years since it opened its doors in 2014. Situated on the top floor and armed with a killer sound system, the 375-capacity gig space is firmly one of London’s best small venues.
The support tonight is Harkin (Solo moniker of Katie Harkin, touring member of Sleater-Kinney) who provides a charming set of scuzzy guitar, Hackney anecdotes, and coronavirus banter, lightening the mood on this grisly Thursday night in East London. The intermediary background soundtrack is country-music heavy, you wonder whether the one time Nashville singer about to take to the stage is setting a scene, providing some comfort in a foreign land or perhaps just paying dues to her musical origins (highlighted later with a drawled, “y’all like the Dixie Chicks?”).
The band enter to what is now a capacity crowd fronted by the blonde figure of Brooklyn’s TORRES, Telecaster in hand, clad in all black with lipstick to match. She quietly begins the set with ‘Good Scare’, opener of new album Silver Tongue (“more proud of it than anything I’ve done”), her contralto gathering strength as the song progresses. ‘Dressing America’ and ‘Three Futures’ follow a similar tempo, aided by J.R. Bohannon’s serene pedal steel and Bryan Bisordi’s crisp drumming. Things get hard and loose with ‘Last Forest’ and ‘Cowboy Guilt’, Bohannon relinquishing the pedal steel for a twin Telecaster assault, Erin Manning cranking the dials on her Moog. While some may struggle to connect with the electronic flourishes on her newer work, performed live they’re really allowed the room breath and envelop the songs, giving you a far better sense of their purpose.
Mackenzie Scott (civilian name) is nervous: “London is a big deal”. After her dream of signing a three-album deal with legendary indie label 4AD (who released her third album Three Futures), she was unceremoniously dropped from her contract due to insufficient commercial returns. She spent the following six months agonising over whether to quit the music industry, and in set highlight ‘Honey’ you can really feel the stakes. For a mid-level indie artist in a time when record sale income is negligible and live gigs are your lifeblood, the guttural growl of “come over here and let me put you back together” is keenly felt.
The artist she’s most compared to is PJ Harvey (sharing a producer in Rob Ellis for second album Sprinter) but tonight she has the carnal strut and prowling vocal delivery more akin to another Ellis collaborator, Anna Calvi (albeit without the axe-shredding chops, though she is no slouch on a fret board). Bitter laundry-airing songs about gaslighting ex-lovers (“I wrote this song, now the whole world knows that it happened”) are offset by tender moments like ‘Gracious Day’, dedicated to her girlfriend (who’s present), giving balance to the set.
There was a very real chance that Mackenzie Scott might never have been here tonight. During the raw power of closer 'Helen in the Woods', you can feel the mutual gratitude between herself and the audience that that isn’t the case. Long may she remain.